As we continue to learn about how to navigate through this world-wide pandemic, and achieve a new sense of “normal,” many parents of young children face a dilemma under Colorado’s Safer at Home orders, which permit many businesses and offices to reopen and more than essential workers to return to work. Parents who had been following Stay at Home orders have been thrust into learning how to juggle work responsibilities while also tending to the needs of their young children – a balance that is challenging to achieve in normal circumstances, and even more so now with so many demands on time, resources and increased stressors. Now, with the prospect of many parents being permitted to return to work, and the typical return to preschool just a month away, many parents are questioning whether sending their child back to organized care and education outside of the home is a safe choice for their family.
While the answer to that question is inevitably a personal family decision, there are many factors parents can take into account when determining whether an organized child care setting is the right choice. Over the past few months, licensed child care centers in Colorado have evolved rapidly to enhance health and safety protocols to align with expert guidance being prepared by the Centers for Disease Control, the Office of Early Childhood, and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment. If you’ve not been in a child care setting since mid-March, when you do return, expect to find many changes that all centers have deployed to provide for safe, sanitary and secure educational environment.
The CDC has issued comprehensive guidance on how child care providers can best plan, prepare and respond to the pandemic, including resources parents can access to help prepare their children for what it will feel like to return to preschool.
What Will My Child’s Preschool Look and Feel Like When We Return?
Here’s what you should expect when you return to, or seek to enroll at a child care provider:
· Virtual Tours – In lieu of touring in person, many centers are offering video tours to show you what you should expect when enrolling, introducing you to teachers and school leadership, and showing you the protocols they’ve put in place.
· Curbside/Limited Access Drop Off – Preschools are required to complete wellness check ins with all persons prior to entering the facilities, so expect to have your and your child’s temperature taken, as well as being asked to respond to a number of questions regarding health, travel, symptoms and similar screening. Many providers are not permitting parents to enter the school as a precautionary measure, and to limit foot traffic, so explain to your child that drop off may occur at the front door or in a vestibule area.
· Mask Wearing – Current guidance requires that all employees and children 3 and older wear cloth masks which cover the nose and mouth during active play and while learning in the classroom. Teachers are instructed to remove children’s’ masks for meals and naptime.
· Fewer Spaces/Smaller Class Sizes – Licensed providers are currently restricted to having group sizes of no more than 10 children, so your child may not return to the same class as previously with different friends and teachers. This restriction has limited many schools’ capacities, so wait lists in many classrooms are likely.
· Stable Groups – Current restrictions require that students and teachers stay in the same classroom throughout the course of the day, so as to limit cross-transmission and to make it easier for staff to contract trace. As such, programs that utilized a variety of classroom locations, or grouped children who arrived early or were picked up late in the day, as well as other extracurricular programming may be temporarily suspended.
· Playgrounds & Summer Activities – As of the date of this article, playgrounds are still off-limits, so playing on slides and other playground equipment has been redirected to other games and activities that can be easily managed with social distancing guidelines. Other activities that providers cannot effectively guard against transmission, including splash days and other cooperative play games will need to be saved for another summer. Field trips, taken in school buses or vehicles, are also likely to be eliminated or restricted to open-space venues such as greenspace, gardens and other areas, and of limited duration, so as to limit child exposure to facilities where sanitation standards are unknown.
· Meals – For schools that used to provide facility-cooked, hot meals, many have moved to pre-packaged, individual servings of shelf-stable items, in order to limit human touching, and also to account for disruptions encountered in the supply-chain for commonly ordered food items.
· Hand Washing – Your children will learn a lot about the value of hand washing! Many students who have returned to school remark to their parents, “I learned how to wash my hands today!” when being asked, “What did you do at school today?”
· Sanitation Systems – While child care centers were already held to strict sanitation guidelines, new protocols necessitate that cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing must be done at even greater intervals. As such, many classrooms have eliminated hard-to-clean items such as soft surfaces, climbing apparatus, rugs, puppets and soft books. If your provider has these items still in the classroom, you should inquire as to what system is being used to fully disinfect these hard-to-clean surfaces and items.
· School to Home Connection – Because many facilities must limit the number of people in the building in order to comply with regulations, many parents are unable to visit as regularly as they may have liked to in the past. To better continue the school-to-home connection, many providers are offering regular communications, including photos and videos securely shared through school application systems.
One thing is for certain, parents choosing to return their children to their child care provider should feel comfortable asking many questions as to which protocols their preschool has been implementing, and how they have responded to the pandemic. Parents should feel confident that their children are returning to a setting where they will have the opportunity to learn, socialize and develop in a safe, secure and sanitary preschool setting.
While these changes may be unusual, children are very resilient, and most have adapted quickly to the modifications they have witnessed being implemented in their preschools. We can all help them process this with taking time to listen to the questions our children are asking, and responding with sincerity and support. Making sure children are emotionally and socially healthy during this time provides for a growth-oriented mindset that has been shown to support lasting and beneficial brain development.
Owner, Primrose Schools of Thornton, Stapleton & Denver North
Primrose School at Stapleton is proud to have been selected as the first licensed child care provider in the Stapleton community, celebrating its 14th anniversary this past May. It is honored to have also been selected to open Stapleton’s final permitted licensed child care, Primrose School of Denver North, currently under construction and anticipated to open in Late 2020.